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A Review of LCA Methods and Tools and their Suitability for SMEs

Hannele Lehtinen,1 Anna Saarentaus,1 Juulia Rouhiainen,1 Michael Pitts2 and Adisa Azapagic3

Pyry Management Consulting Oy, 2 Chemistry Innovation Ltd, 3 The University of Manchester

May 2011
List of contents

1. Introduction ................................................................................................................................. 3
2. LCA methodology ....................................................................................................................... 7
3. LCA-related methods ................................................................................................................ 10
4. LCA tools .................................................................................................................................. 13
5. LCA needs of the bio-sector ...................................................................................................... 21
6. Conclusions and recommendations for future developments .................................................... 23
References ................................................................................................................................... 24
D3.2 Review of LCA Tools

1. Introduction
This report has been compiled as part of the BIOCHEM project ( under
work package 3 and forms deliverable 3.2.

Report Purpose
This report is intended to provide a background to Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and an overview
of the suitability of various LCA tools and methods to SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises)
and the bio-based sector.

Who is it targeted at?

This report is aimed at those new to LCA and/or those wanting to select a suitable method or tool
to perform LCA within their business.

It is written from the perspective of the chemistry-using industry wishing to implement bio-based
approaches to new product development and needing to compare environmental impacts of new
materials and processes with existing methods.

Life cycle thinking

Successful and sustainable innovation depends on having a clear understanding of the impacts
and benefits of a product or service throughout the whole life cycle from the sourcing of raw
materials to ultimate disposal at end of life. It is vital to consider all stages in the life cycle, not just
the ones that are within companys factory gate.

For the chemicals and chemistry-using sectors there has been a long tradition of not worrying too
much about where the materials come from and what happens to the product once sold to the end
user. This is no longer acceptable as both policy makers and society at large demand more
responsible product stewardship, which means thinking beyond the factory gate and understanding
the full life cycle of a product or an activity. Besides, taking a life cycle approach makes business
sense: it can help spot important risks to company, and equally importantly, it can help gain a
market advantage by identify opportunities for improving products and services.

There are five key stages in the life cycle of a product or service (Figure 1):

Raw materials sourcing the materials required for the product or service
Production converting raw materials and assembling the products
Distribution getting the product to the end user
Use where the end user derives the direct value from the product or service
End of life what happens when the end user has finished with the product or service.

Raw End
Production Distribution Use
Materials of Life

Figure 1 Stages in the life cycle of a product

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Raw Materials

Manufacture Distribute Use Waste

Cradle to Grave

Figure 2 A cradle to grave approach to analysing the life cycle of a product or service


Raw Materials

Manufacture Distribute Use

Cradle to Cradle

Figure 3 A cradle to cradle approach to analysing the life cycle of a product or service

Life cycle thinking is sometimes referred to as a cradle to grave approach as it follows a product
or a service from sourcing of primary materials (cradle) to ultimate disposal of waste (grave); see
Figure 2 for an illustration. A related term cradle to cradle refers to designing product so that they
can be easily reused or recycled at the end of their useful life (Figure 3). This helps to use
resources in a more sustainable way as well as to avoid waste at the end of life. Therefore, a
sustainable approach to design of products is vital, as the whole life cycle of a product and its

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subsequent impacts are determined at this stage. For more detail, consult the Sustainable Design
Guide available within BIOCHEM.

Life cycle thinking enables us to identify both threats and opportunities in the life cycle of the
product or service; to understand the tradeoffs between the impacts at different stages of the life
cycle, and to communicate the challenges and options to others.

It is also useful in finding out where in the life cycle the major impacts arise as a starting point for
discussing where the innovation targets could be set. The following are some examples of most
intensive life cycle stages for different sectors and products:

Raw material intensive product

Most of the impact is created by the materials contained in the product. This includes consumption
of energy and waste generation in producing the raw materials, as well as social impacts such as
disturbance of local communities to access minerals. Typical high impact materials would include
virgin metals, natural extracts such as perfume ingredients, and energy intensive materials such as
bricks and concrete. Electronic and electrical equipment are typical of products in this category.

Manufacturing intensive product

Processing the raw materials during manufacture causes the greatest impact through energy
consumption, waste production, and health and safety issues. Typical manufacturing intensive
products use materials which undergo extensive processing during the production process, or
which produce large volumes of waste. Examples include many consumer durables and chemicals.

Distribution intensive product

The overall impact is dominated by the system of distribution. This category includes products
which are transported over long distances, are heavy and use of a lot of packaging. Examples
include fresh, out-of-season vegetables.

Use intensive product

Impacts in the use phase dominate the life cycle. Products with high durability and which go
through many cycles of use are found in this category. Examples include automobiles,
dishwashers and laser printers.

Disposal intensive product

These are products where the main impact comes at end of life. Products including hazardous
materials are often expensive and difficult to dispose of safely. Batteries are an example of this

Life cycle assessment

Life cycle thinking can be translated into quantitative measures of sustainability. Some examples of
such measures, considering the three pillars of sustainability (environmental, social and economic)
are illustrated in Figure 4.

Environmental sustainability can be quantified on a life cycle basis by using Life Cycle Assessment
(LCA). LCA is a compilation and evaluation of the inputs, outputs and the potential environmental
impacts of a product or a service throughout its life cycle.

By taking into account the whole life cycle of an activity along its supply chain, LCA enables
identification of the most significant impacts and stages in the life cycle that need to be targeted for
maximum improvements. This helps to avoid the shifting of environmental burdens from one stage
to another, as would be the case if the production process alone was considered.

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Figure 4 Some sustainability issues in the life cycle of a product or service (Azapagic and
Stichnothe, 2010)

A key concept within LCA is the unit of service (functional unit). The unit of service is a
convenient measure of what is actually being delivered to the user. For an automobile, the unit of
service could be a passenger kilometre, or for a ball-point pen a kilometre of writing. For an
adhesive, it could be 1 cm2 of bonded materials at a defined strength, or for a photocopier one A4
copy at 5% coverage. For paint, the unit of service could be defined as coverage of 1 m2 of surface
and durability over 5 years. By focusing on the benefit that the user receives, the unit of service
allows us to compare products and services to deliver that benefit in very different ways.

The LCA methodology is explained in greater detail in Section 2; other LCA-related methods are
discussed in Section 3.

LCA methods and tools for bio-based products

There are no methods or tools that are entirely designed for assessing the life cycle impacts of bio-
based products. The degree of suitability for this sector depends on the databases available and
inclusion of factors particular to bio-based materials, e.g. land-use change. This report attempts to
assess existing, widely available LCA methods and tools and also critique their ease of use by

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2. LCA methodology
Standards and guidance
Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a system for collating and evaluating information on the
environmental performance of a product, service or an activity across its full life cycle, from cradle
to grave. In international standardisation, ISO 14040 (ISO, 2006a) series promote LCA as a
technique to better understand and address the possible environmental impacts associated with
products (including services). ISO 14040 defines the principles and framework of life cycle
assessment, and ISO 14044 (ISO 2006b) gives more detailed requirements and guidelines. This
framework, however, leaves space for choices that can have impact on the results and the
conclusions of the assessment. Therefore some additional guidance, namely the International
Reference Life Cycle Data System (ILCD) Handbook, has been set up to provide further
instructions on LCA (EC, 2010). The ILCD Handbook is based on the ISO 14040/44 standards and
it aims to support consistency and quality assurance of LCA.

LCA procedure
According to ISO 14044, the methodological framework for LCA consists of four phases which are
outlined in Figure 5. In addition to the methodological framework for LCA, ISO 14044 defines
requirements for the reporting of the assessments and guidelines for the possible implementation
of the critical review.

Goal and Scope


Inventory Analysis Interpretation

Impact Assessment

Figure 5 The methodological framework for LCA (ISO, 2006a)

1. Goal and scope definition

Defining the goal includes determining the reason for carrying out the LCA study, the intended
audience, and the intended application while defining the scope involves setting the system
boundaries and the level of detail.

2. Inventory analysis
The second phase of the LCA, the life cycle inventory analysis (LCI) phase, deals with collecting
the necessary data to meet the objectives of the LCA study by inventoring the input and output

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data of the studied system. Possible data sources include for example measurements on the
production site, existing databases and bibliographic research.

3. Impact assessment
The purpose of the third phase of LCA, life cycle impact assessment (LCIA), is to convert the LCI
results into the related environmental impacts effects on natural resource use, natural
environment and human health.

The impact assessment phase has two mandatory steps: classification and characterisation.
Classification of the LCI results involves dividing the LCI results into impact categories e.g. global
warming, acidification, and human toxicity. In characterisation, the potential impact of each
emission or resource use is estimated, using certain scientific factors. For example, the impact of
methane emissions on climate change is estimated using the factor of 25 kg CO2 eq./kg of CH4.
The remaining two LCIA steps, normalisation and weighting, are optional. Normalisation puts the
estimated impacts in an appropriate context, for example, by normalising them to the total impacts
in a region or country over certain time. Weighting allows decision makers to indicate which
impacts are most important to them by assigning weights of importance to each impact. This
results in aggregation of impacts into a single environmental impact value (or eco-efficiency) and
can aid decision making, particularly when comparing different alternatives on a number of
different criteria.

There are various LCIA methodologies that can be applied. They can differ in the impact
categories they cover, in their selection of indicators, and in their geographical focus. The choice of
the most suitable LCIA methodology is case-specific and the ILCD Handbook (EC, 2010) gives
support on the selection of the appropriate methodology, providing further information on the main
methodologies, including:


Eco-indicator 99 LUCAS
Ecological Scarcity Method (Ecopoints 2006) ReCiPe
EPS 2000 MEEuP
IMPACT 2002+

4. Interpretation
The final phase of the LCA procedure is a life cycle interpretation, where the results of an LCI and
LCIA are summarised and discussed to provide a basis for conclusions, recommendations and
decision-making, depending on the goal and scope definition.

Carbon and water footprinting

As climate change has received a lot of attention, one impact category of LCA, climate change/
global warming potential, has become more popularly known as carbon footprint. A carbon
footprint analysis describes the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by a product,
service or an activity over its entire life cycle. There are various methodologies and guidance for
carbon footprinting. An example is PAS 2050:2008 (Publicly Available Specification), issued the
British Standards Institution (BSI, 2008). A number of other methodologies are under development,
including the ISO 14067 and the World Resource Institute methodology (WRI, 2011).

Another impact category that is gaining importance is water usage, generally referred to as water
footprint. Currently, there is no agreed methodology on water footprinting and data are scarce.
More information on water footprinting can be found in Jeswani and Azapagic (2011).

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LCA applications
LCA applications include product development and improvement, identification of more sustainable
products or services, eco-labelling, policy making and marketing. Some of these applications are
important for bio-based products as they can help to identify any environmental advantages over
the fossil-based counterparts. For more information on product development and design, see the
Sustainable Design Guide available within BIOCHEM.

LCA limitations
Limitations of LCA are related to the insufficient transparency of the results, which can hinder the
utilisation of existing studies as a source of information and in comparisons. Moreover, LCA does
not take into account the social and economic impacts during the life cycle of a product (even
though the life cycle approach and its methodologies can also be applied to these aspects).

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3. LCA-related approaches
A range of LCA approaches and methods can be used, depending on the intended application.
This is illustrated in the graph below. In many cases this is dictated by the stage or maturity of the
project development; the more developed the project, the more data is available to offer a
quantitative estimate.

For the purposes of working with the BIOCHEM Sustainable Design Guide, the intended
application is for design and innovation, so that the application of different tools is discussed in that
context. Other LCA-related approaches can be found in Jeswani et al. (2010).

The approaches are discussed in order of decreasing sophistication and cost.

Figure 6 Different LCA tools and methodologies, depending on the intended application
(CIKTN, 2009; also based on discussions with Chris Sherwin, Forum for the Future)

Life Cycle Assessment following ISO 14044

This is the gold standard, following an internationally accepted LCA methodology. It is most
effectively used for existing products and processes and for policy-related questions. However, it is
less suitable for screening innovation and design ideas due to its complexity and particularly high
data requirements.

Matrix-based LCA
A more streamlined approach to LCA scores each stage of the life cycle for impact on a number of
environmental indicators. Typical indicators include resource depletion, global warming potential,
smog production, acidification, eutrophication, toxic waste production and biodiversity impact.
Impact is estimated using a simple numerical scale. The completed matrix is used to focus
attention on areas for improvement.

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Proxy measures
Streamlined LCA methods are still too complicated for many applications. So proxy measures have
been developed that use a single value to represent the environmental impact of a product or
material. Examples include:

Embodied energy - this is a commonly available indicator and works well for systems that are
dominated by energy use, such as packaging and construction.

Material input per unit of service (MIPS) - overcomes some of the issues of embodied
energy by accounting for all material movements, but does not really discriminate between
materials with different environmental risks. Ecological rucksack is a simple version of this that
describes the amount of material moved from nature.

Ecological footprint - measures the total land area that is required to support the production
of the service, product or lifestyle. Most commonly used to communicate the impact of different
life styles on the total amount of land required to support each society.

Eco-indicators - an attempt to model a wide range of impacts that are then weighted against
each other and summed into a single value. Because of the value judgments built into
weighting the different impact categories, these are subjective measures of actual impact. An
example method is the Eco-indicator 99 model, which has been used by designers and several
LCA software packages support it (e.g. SimaPro and Gabi).

Directional tools
Very simple assessments can be used to identify areas of focus in innovation and to suggest
directions to explore. One of the most useful of these is the Streamlined Life Cycle Assessment
(SLCA) developed by the Forum for the Future and the Natural Step.

It is a simple matrix (see Figure 7) of the stages of a product life cycle and four system conditions
defined by the Natural Step as being critical to sustainability. Each cell in the matrix is filled in using
a series of questions designed to be answered with a simple yes or no, and scored on a scale from
good to bad. A quick SLCA can be carried out in a group discussion based on already available

Forum for the Future claims that benefits include:

Quicker and cheaper than a full LCA;
Reveals approximately 80% of the impacts over the complete life cycle of any product within an
afternoons workshop;
Causes product teams to think systemically about a product and provides a way to judge
whether or not an innovation is truly more sustainable or not;
Communicates sustainability impacts to non-experts;
Benchmarks progress towards full sustainability.

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Figure 7 The Natural Step SLCA (

General principles
General principles, common sense and rules of thumb can all be used to make a swift assessment
of the life cycle impacts. For example, for most product and services energy costs dominate the
overall environmental impacts. Thus, lower impacts can be obtained by:
using low embodied energy materials;
efficient manufacturing processes;
reducing distribution costs;
low energy use per functional unit (unit of service); and
no complex clean up at end-of-life.
It may seem that this is a statement of the very obvious, but such simple life cycle thinking can
have a powerful effect on design and should be a minimum baseline of understanding for all.

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4. LCA tools
Tools for conducting LCA
There are various tools for conducting LCA or for supporting the different phases and applications
of LCA. Several different tools have been developed for particular fields of industry. Only few free
tools are available, one of them being CCaLC ( For most commercial tools,
there is a free demo version available which can help decide on the suitability of the tool for a
particular application. There are significant differences in the user-friendliness of the tools. Most
tools include databases, although some are more comprehensive than others.

Table 1 includes a list of existing LCA-related tools. Some main characteristics of the tools are
included, too, indicating e.g. the operating language, industrial sector and whether the tool is free
or commercial. Most tools are tailored for experts, and only few cater for non-specialists and
SMEs. An example is the CCaLC tool, which has been developed specifically for such applications
and within BIOCHEM is tailored for the bio-based sector.

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Table 1 Existing LCA tools

Tool name Supplier Supports Supports Language Main Special area if Free? If commercial, Web page
LCI and/or full LCA* database any availability of
LCIA* free trials
AIST-LCA National Institute of Yes Japanese AIST-LCA No No free trial http://www.aist-
Ver.4 Advanced Industrial database available
Science and Technology ware/nire.html?ml_lang=en
BEES 4.0 National Institute of Yes English Bees Construction Yes
Standards and Technology database industry /BEESSoftware.cfm
CCaLC Tool The University of Yes English CCaLC Yes
Manchester database p
Eco-Bat 2.1 Haute Ecole d'Ingnierie et Yes French, Eco-Bat Construction No
de Gestion du Canton de Italian, database industry
Vaud English ntent&view=frontpage&Itemid=1
Ecoinvent Doka Life Cycle Yes English Ecoinvent Waste No Yes
waste disposal Assessments (Doka database management
inventory tools Okobilanzen)
EIME V3.0 CODDE Yes English EIME Electrical, No Yes
database mechanical brique=20
and electronic
Environmental Athena Sustainable Yes English Own Construction No Yes
Impact Materials Institute database industry
eVerdEE v.2.0 ENEA - Italian National Yes Italian, ENEA Yes
Agency for New English database x-EP
Technology, Energy and
the Environment
GaBi 4 PE International GmbH Yes English Gabi No Yes http://www.gabi-
University of Stuttgart, database
LBP-GaBi L=0&redirect=1
GEMIS Oeko-Institut (Institute for Yes Spanish, Energy, No
version 4.4 applied Ecology), Czech, transport,
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Darmstadt Office German, recycling and

English waste
KCL-ECO 4.1 VTT Yes English No
LEGEP 1.2 LEGEP Software GmbH Yes English, LEGEP Construction No Yes
German database industry ktivId=1125
LTE OGIP; t.h.e. Software GmbH Yes German Construction No http://www.the-
Version 5.0; industry
Build-Number ml
OpenLCA GreenDeltaTC GmbH Yes English Yes
Qantis suite Quantis Yes English Qantis No Yes http://www.quantis-
2.0 database
REGIS 2.3 sinum AG Yes Japanese, ecoinvent No Yes
Spanish, Data v1.3: ts/software/
SALCA-tools Agroscope Reckenholz- Yes German Agriculture Free for tool
Tnikon Research Station developers, aktuell/index.html?lang=en
ART project
Access can be
case by case
with the
SankeyEditor STENUM GmbH Yes English No Yes
3.0 ware/sankey/sankey-intro
SimaPro 7 PR Consultants B.V. Yes E.g. SimaPro No Yes
Spanish, database
TEAM 4.5 Ecobilan - Yes English (Yes) Some versions
PricewaterhouseCoopers free, others m.php
have demo
The Boustead Boustead Consulting Yes English The No Yes http://www.boustead-
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Model 5.0.12 Limited Boustead

Umberto 5.5 ifu Hamburg GmbH Yes English Umberto No Yes
library t/index.htm
USES-LCA Radboud University Yes English Toxic impacts Yes
Nijmegen between ence/research/life_cycle/multime
substances dia_toxic/
WRATE UK Environment Agency Yes English Municipal No Yes
waste hub/tool2.vm?tid=197

* Life Cycle Inventory (LCI), Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

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LCA Databases
Various LCA databases are attached to the LCA tools and some can be used separately. There
are both freely available and commercial databases.

Free databases
Terms of data usage differ from database to database, some require registration, some are not
available for commercial purpose and others are delivered on author agreement only. Mainly
general data is available, e.g. transport, energy, recycling and case studies from various
industries. There is useful information available, but finding relevant information for selected uses
can be extremely difficult. Formats may not be compatible with all the tools.

Table 2 lists freely available databases.

Table 2 Free LCA databases

Database name Supplier Languages Special area, if any Website

CCaLC database The University of English
CPM LCA Database Centre for Environmental English
Assessment of Product
and Material Systems -
Eurofer data sets EUROFER English Steel industry
GEMIS 4.4 Oeko-Institut (Institute Spanish Energy, transport, recycling
for applied Ecology), Czech and waste treatment
Darmstadt Office German

Franklin Associates' Franklin Associates English

Case examples .html
ILCD European Commission English
LC Data Forschungszentrum German Energy, transport and end
Karlsruhe English of life
LCA_sostenipra_v.1. Universitat Autnoma de Spanish biomass production
0 Barcelona (UAB) Catalan (energy crops and forest
English biomass), wood use and
recycling (energy and
products), ecodesign,
sustainable architecture,
service systems and green
MFA_sostenipra_v.1 Universitat Autnoma de Spanish
.0 Barcelona (UAB) Catalan

PlasticsEurope Eco- PlasticsEurope English Polymers (main) and their http://www.plasticseurope.

profiles intermediates org/plastics-
ProBas Umweltbundesamt German http://www.probas.umweltb
US Life Cycle Athena Sustainable English
Inventory Database Materials Institute base/default.asp

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Commercial databases
Commercial databases are often closely related with commercially available tools. The availability
of data on some products is better than in the free databases. However, it is recommended to
ensure before purchase that all required data are available. If not, extra data sets might cost
significantly more than the data in the basic database. Only few commercial databases are
specialised in chemicals or in bio-based materials. Table 3 lists commercial databases.

Table 3 Commercial LCA databases

Database Supplier Free Languages Special Website

name demo/trial area, if any

DEAM Ecobilan - No English

EcoInvent EcoInvent Yes Japanese
Data v1.3 Centre English
EIME V11.0 CODDE Yes Spanish Selection of
French products
esu- ESU- No German http://www.esu-
services services Ltd. English
GaBi PE No Japanese http://www.gabi-
databases International German
2006 GmbH English 4/
Option data National No Japanese Chemical
pack Institute of production,
Advanced iron & steel
Industrial and waste
Science and managemen
Technology t processes
Sabento ifu Hamburg No German Enzymatic
library 1.1 GmbH English processes, m
cell cultures,
cal systems
SALCA 071 Agroscope No (free to German Agriculture
Reckenholz- developers) English zen/01198/index.html?lang=en
Station ART
SimaPro PR Yes English
database Consultants ases.htm
sirAdos 1.2. LEGEP No German Construction
Software ase2.vm?dbid=128
The Boustead No English Fuels,
Boustead Consulting materials
Model Limited
Umberto ifu Hamburg Yes German
library 5.5 GmbH English m

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Suitability of tools and databases for biochemical industry

Table 4 outlines the applicability of the different tools to bio-based products by listing the
comments received from the tool suppliers. Refer to Table 1 on the whether the tools are available
free of charge or on a commercial basis.

Bio-based products considered include bio-plastics, bio-lubricants, bio-surfactants, enzymes, and

pharmaceuticals. Traditional bio-based products such as pulp and paper, wood products, bio-
energy, and bio-fuels are excluded from analysis here.

Table 4 Bio-based features supported by the tools

Tool / database Supplier Providers comments on which aspects Website

name of bio-based products the tool covers
BEES 4.0 National Institute of Includes 230 building and construction
Standards and products. Some of them are crop-based es
Technology (NIST) and some include bio-lubricant, bio-plastic,
and bio-surfactant processes. One product
is made from wheat straw (by-product)
CCaLC Tool The University of The tool can be used to calculate the
Manchester carbon footprint of any type of bio-products,
provided the primary data are available.
Secondary data are available in the
databases within the tool. There are several
case studies available within the tool
related to bio-feedstocks and bio-products.
Both business to business and business
to consumer LCA studies can be
CPM LCA Database Center for Single data might be available, and some
Environmental tools, in particular the database structure
Assessment of can be useful
Product and
Material Systems -
Ecoinvent waste Doka Life Cycle Covers any (biomass) product, for which
disposal inventory Assessments (Doka there is the necessary data (esp. elemental /
tools v1.0 Okobilanzen) composition, degradability, heating value).
Energy produced from end of life treatment
is included in the model, and end of life
modelling (esp. incineration and landfill, but
also wastewater treatment)
esu-services ESU-services Ltd. In principle the database covers various http://www.esu-
database v1 aspects, e.g.
-short-rotation wood
-all types of food products -and food by-
-biogas production
-gasifcation processes
-waste water treatment, incineration or
disposal processes
Besides providing these ready available
data on demand, the provider is specialized
to investigate all types of products and
processes on request of the customer
eVerdEE v.2.0 ENEA - Italian Production processes of biomass-based
National Agency for chemicals and raw materials not /cm/index-EP
New Technology, implemented, but it can be done if data are

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Energy and the available

GaBi 4 PE International PE can provide dedicated datasets on http://www.gabi-
GmbH University of specialist bio-based products and
Stuttgart, LBP-GaBi processes. In a data-on-demand service,
datasets include but are not limited to the

Agriculture derived datasets to field edge /

farm gate, for example:
- Sugar/starch: Sugar cane, Wheat,
Potatoes, Rice plus many more.
- Fruit / Nuts / Vegetables: Cashews,
Peanuts, Apple plus many more.
- Fibre crops: Sisal, Jute, Kenaf plus others.
- Oil / protein crops: Sunflower, Rapeseed,
Palm Oil, Jathropa plus many more.
- Animals: Cattle, Pig, Chicken, Sheep plus
many more.

Datasets on renewable materials:

- Fibre products: Cotton fibre, Kenaf fibre,
Flax fibre plus others.
- Polymers/others: Coutchuk/Latex (natural
rubber), PLA, Cellophane plus many more.
- Bio-lubricants: Rape oil, Sunflower oil,
Castor oil plus many more.
- Bio-surfactants: Tenside (Alcohol
- Additives: Yeast, Xylitol, Sorbitol plus

End of Life:
- Incineration Plants, Landfill, Composting
plus others.
GEMIS Oeko-Institut GEMIS includes the feedstock provision
(Institute for applied stage for various annual and perennial
Ecology), Darmstadt crops.The provider is working in several
Office national and EU projects to add life-cycles
of selected biomaterials, and will have them
included in a 2012 GEMIS database
KCL-ECO 4.1 VTT KCL-ECO is related to EcoData which is
utilised only for consultancy work by the h/technology/sustainabil
provider. Data is sold in entities case by ity_assessment.jsp?lan
case. The tool is compatible with ecoinvent g=en
REGIS 2.3 sinum AG REGIS is by default delivered with
ecoinvent data, but for specific inventory n/products/software/
data additional suppliers can be addressed
SALCAfarm and Agroscope SALCAcrop includes all kinds of agricultural http://www.agroscope.a
SALCAcrop Reckenholz- crops (e.g. trees and grassland) but
Taenikon Research excludes forests and marine systems. It dex.html?lang=en
Station ART covers the biomass production, but not the
processing. System boundary: farm gate

SALCAfarm includes also animal products

SimaPro PR Consultants The main database, ecoinvent, has quite a
B.V. range of bio-based materials. Another t/simapro-lca-software
source of such data is the Danish food
TEAM Ecobilan - A flexible tool enabling to model any system
PricewaterhouseCo regardless of the industry or sector m/uk_team.php

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5. LCA needs of the bio-sector

Bio-based products
Bio-based products are derived from renewable resources, or biomass. Biomass encompasses all
living and non-living organic material including crops, animal, agricultural and forestry waste.
Biomass is a feedstock that is chemically rich but complex. Formed from sunlight, water, CO2 and
nutrients, biomass can be refined to substances such as starch, cellulose or oils which can be
broken down into intermediate platform chemicals.

Bio-based products can also be a result of the application of biocatalysts. These are biological
products that are capable of catalysing a specific reaction. These can be in the form of isolated
enzymes or the parent whole-cell micro-organism (e.g. bacteria or yeast). All enzymes are
proteins and tend to operate in aqueous systems at ambient temperature.

LCA issues for bio-based products

The main LCA issues for bio-based products are avoidance of fossil fuel resources and in most
cases reduced global warming potential (greenhouse gas emissions). When carrying out an LCA of
a bio-based product or comparing it with a fossil-derived product, it is important to consider the
following issues:

Systems boundaries
The system boundary for an LCA study is determined by the scope of the study (see section 2).
For bio-based products, it is particularly important that the system boundary includes agricultural
activities and any change in land use for agricultural inputs. Consideration of end-of-life is also
important because the choice of disposal determines whether waste materials can be used as a
source of renewable energy, as carbon sinks, or potentially break down to green house gases
with high global warming potential (e.g. methane in landfill).

For cultivated crops, the emission of nitrous oxide (N2O) from soil can make a substantial
contribution to the total greenhouse gas emissions. Evaluation of soil N2O emissions is not
straightforward due to the level of knowledge of this part of the nitrogen cycle. Currently, the IPCC
(2007) approach is routinely used for these estimations.

Land use change refers to the effect on natural resource inputs and environmental outputs for the
alternative use of the land if it had not been used to cultivate the biomass crop for bio-based
product production. Permanent grassland or rainforest, for example, are significant stores of
carbon and disturbing these can lead to a release of significant amount of carbon. Land is
therefore considered an important carbon sink as well as a resource and the impact of
displacement of crops must be considered. The latter has been critical in the arguments over the
sustainability of biofuels.

Functional unit
As discussed in section 1, the functional unit is an important concept in LCA. For two LCAs to be
directly comparable they must be based on the same functional unit which considers the actual
function delivered by a product or service. Direct comparison on a mass basis for example is
meaningless if the alternative products are used or disposed of in a different way or has a different

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Co-product allocation
Many processes involve the generation of more than one product and LCA allows for allocating or
sharing of the impacts between these co-products. This is typically needed for refinery products
from a petrochemical refinery and from a biorefinery. The use of co-product allocation method can
have a strong effect on the LCA result. The different methods are (ISO, 2006b):

Substitution credits - alternative products displaced by all co-products, apart from the main
product, are identified and the impacts associated with the production of these alternatives are
estimated and subtracted from those of the process under consideration so that the residual
estimates comprise the LCA results for the main product (this approach is complicated to
determine accurately but is reflective of real impact);
Allocation by mass - in which total impacts are divided on the basis of the relative mass of
each co-product produced by the process under investigation (this approach is easy to use but
can be disproportionate in some cases, e.g. the main product is of low relative molecular
Allocation by energy content - in which total impacts are divided on the basis of the relative
energy contained by the amounts of co-products produced by the process under investigation
(again a simple approach where the energy value is known but prone to misleading results);
Allocation by price - in which total impacts are divided on the basis of the relative values or
price associated with each co-product produced by the process under investigation (another
simple approach and based on demand but will change over time).

There is no universally-agreed choice for co-product allocation. The ISO 14041 Series standard
recommends the above approaches in the order listed. PAS 2050 follows the similar approach, but
excludes mass and energy allocation.

Examples of different allocation approaches in the bio-based sector can be found in the case
studies included in CCaLC (

No universally agreed methodology exists but transparency on the above areas of variance in the
use and reporting of LCA can help mitigate this. It is important that the methodology used is
transparent and the full datasheet published so LCAs can be compared with confidence. It is
important to provide the assumptions, sources of data and calculations. This can have
consequences for the use of commercial software packages. Some of these are available under
licence and incorporate extensive databases but cannot strictly provide complete transparency due
to commercial restrictions. Other software packages that incorporate extensive databases are
available as open source, thereby achieving greater transparency.

For more information on comparing LCAs on renewable chemicals, see BERR (2008).

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6. Summary and future developments

As outlined in the previous sections, LCA is a powerful tool for helping the bio-based sector identify
improvement opportunities in the supply chain and gain market advantage over the fossil-based

As also discussed in this report, there are many LCA methods and tools but none is tailored for the
bio-based sector. Some difficulties in applying LCA in to bio-based products include the complexity
of the methodology and lack of data.

In an attempt to bridge this gap, the BIOCHEM project is developing an LCA tool Bio-CCaLC
that is tailored specifically for the bio-based sector and that will include appropriate databases,
case studies and user guidance. Bio-CCaLC is building on the current CCaLC tool
( and will be available free of charge. It is aimed at non-experts and SMEs.
Training sessions will also be available on how to apply LCA and CCaLC in the bio-sector.

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ADEME (2009). Study for a simplified LCA methodology adapted to bioproducts. BIO Intelligence
Service for The French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME), 2009.

Azapagic, A. and H. Stichnothe (2009). A Life Cycle Approach to Measuring Sustainability.

Chemistry Today. V27 (1) 44-46).

BERR (2008). Study into the Potential Energy and Greenhouse Gas Savings of Renewable
Chemicals and Biocatalysts, North Energy:

BSI (2008a). British Standard BSI: PAS 2050:2008 Specification for the assessment of the life
cycle greenhouse gas emissions of goods and services, BSI, London.

BSI (2008b). British Standard BSI: Guide to PAS 2050 How to assess the carbon footprint of
goods and services, BSI, London.

CIKTN (2009). Sustainable Design Guide. Chemistry Innovation, 2009.

EC (2010). The ILCD Handbook, Analysis of existing Environmental Impact Assessment

methodologies for use in Life Cycle Assessment. European Commission, Joint Research Centre,
Institute for Environment and Sustainability, Ispra & Brussels.

EC (2011). LCA tools, services and data. European Commission, Joint Research Centre,

IPCC (2007). Climate Change 2007. Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change.

ISO (2006a). International Standard, ISO 14040, Environmental management Life cycle
assessment Principles and framework, ISO, Geneva.

ISO (2006b). International Standard, ISO 14044, Environmental management Life cycle
assessment Requirements and guidelines, ISO, Geneva.

ISO (2011). Carbon footprint of products. Standard under development.

Jeswani, H.K. and A. Azapagic (2011). Methodologies for Assessing the Impacts of Water Use: A
Review and a Case Study. J. of Cleaner Production. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2011.04.003.

Jeswani, H., A. Azapagic, P. Schepelmann and M. Ritthoff (2010). Options for Broadening and
Deepening the LCA Approaches. Journal of Cleaner Production, 18(2) 120-127.

WRI (2011). GHG Protocol.

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